Bandits Make Off with $36M Worth of Copper, Using Paving Stones and Spray Paint

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jun 29, 2021

A Turkish copper seller, a Chinese customer and the Swiss trader who facilitated the deal were the victims of a complex heist that resulted in the theft of $36 million worth of the metal by operators using paving stones and spray paint, Bloomberg reported.

The Chinese company had been seeking copper ore for a project and turned to the Swiss trader to find a good seller. The trader connected the firm to a contact in Turkey, which agreed to sell the company about 7,000 tons, worth $40 million. What none of these parties knew was that the night after the first shipment was loaded into containers bound for port, unknown parties broke in, removed the metal, and replaced it with paving stones of roughly the same shape and weight that they'd spray painted to look like copper. Once the metal was stolen, the robbers locked the container with a counterfeit seal, to give the impression that it had not been tampered with, and made off like, well, bandits.

It would take three months for that first shipment to reach China; in the intervening time, the unknown parties did the same thing seven more times. By the time the "copper" finally arrived, the Chinese company realized it had wired $36 million for a bunch of heavy rocks. While such a theft is usually insured, the trader later found that all but one of the insurance contracts had been forged.

Bloomberg said that authorities were baffled until they discovered a large invoice for paving stones to be delivered to the Turkish supplier. Through investigation, the Turkish government found it had been an inside job. Turkish authorities wound up charging 16 people, including two executives from the copper supplier itself (though all involved have denied having anything to do with the scheme.)

The stolen copper has yet to be recovered.

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